by Rachel Hunter
The St. Lawrence Valley Draft Horse Association will once again show the power and utility of the draft horse at the 2019 SLVDHA Plow Days, which will be held on Saturday, September 7, and Sunday, September 8, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Bill and Tina Siebels Farm in Fowler. The event takes place at the end of the growing season, the culmination of the club’s efforts to plant, grow, and harvest using draft horses and equipment.
Today, the gentle giant draft horses are seldom seen, almost lost in a world of high-speed, noisy machines that require industrial fuel to perform. But it was only a century ago when draft horses (along with mules and oxen) were almost everywhere, providing a practical, dependable, and renewable power source for pioneer-era industries such as agriculture, railway building, large-scale excavation and earth-moving, mining, logging, and road construction.
In fact, before 1910, at least 90 percent of all public works, agriculture, and resource industries relied on “horse power” to complete jobs both large and small.
For millennia, grains, fruits, and vegetables were produced manually by sowing seeds and using a scythe to harvest the crops. Hand-flailing the straw to remove the grain on the ground was a slow and inefficient way of processing. Innovations in farm equipment significantly increased the productivity of North American farmers. Double-width harrows, steel plows mounted on wheels, mowers, binders, threshers, and combines reduced the need for manpower, while dramatically increasing the horse power required to operate them. Improvements in harnesses and hitch design also increased efficiency.
The western market for farm equipment created a demand for stronger and larger horses to power the new equipment. Horse, farmer, and machine began working together to plant and harvest the crops. The last half of the 19th century saw draft horse breeding become both essential and profitable. Horse breeding programs flourished in the late 1800s and in the early part of the 1900s. During this time, many grain farms had more horses (as many as 10 or more) than people, with each horse working an average of 600 hours per year.
So, what was partly responsible for both the rise and collapse of the heavy horse in North America? The Industrial Revolution. The changes in agricultural technology peaked in the latter part of the 19th century. Demand for draft animals was spurred by growing transportation, construction, and agricultural needs. The year 1917, when the Ford Motor Company introduced the Fordson Tractor, saw the beginning of the trend moving away from horse power in favor of farm mechanization. The horse lost the dominance of the streets to the automotive industry rather quickly. As for the contest for the agricultural fields, the horse fought tenaciously but eventually yielded in many cases to steam and gas tractor power.
Since that time, the draft breeds have not only stabilized in numbers, but also once more enjoy a thriving trade. The stabilization of the draft horse population can be attributed to the dedication of draft horse breeders, as well as the decision of the old order Amish to reject tractor power in the fields.
The purpose of the St. Lawrence Valley Draft Horse Club is to promote the use of (as well as the ownership of) Clydesdale, Percheron, Belgian, Shire, Suffolk, and other breeds of draft horses. The club’s goal is to increase the number of people who responsibly own and enjoy draft horses. The club was founded over 30 years ago when there was a modest increase in interest in draft horses.
So much knowledge had been lost about how draft horses could be used, and the equipment suitable for working with draft horses, that the club began to gather that information and look for ways to share it with the general public. There has been a steady increase in interest in draft horses in St. Lawrence County ever since.
The 2019 SLVDHA Plow Days will be held on Saturday, September 7 and Sunday, September 8, at the Bill and Tina Siebels Farm, 362 County Route 22 (Farm To Market Road), Fowler. Exhibitions include plowing with walking plow and sulky plow, mowing hay, hay press, corn cutting, threshing, wagon rides, black smith, potato digging, sorghum press, dog/goat tread mill, cake walk, pony rides, raffles, refreshments. Also on Sunday at 1 p.m., there will be a parade, followed by the annual auction at 2 p.m. Admission is free for 4-H and FFA members. All others are a nominal fee.
For more information, call (315) 287-3533 or (315) 276-1135.
Don’t miss out on this opportunity to witness the power of the draft horse at the 2019 SLVDHA Plow Days!